US Invasion of Grenada

Grenada is a small island in the Caribbean, about 120 sq. miles (311 sq. km), with a population of around 100,000. On 25 October 1983 The United States invaded with 2000 paratroops and marines—7000 troops by the end of the week—under the name (in yet another action in a long line with a marketable codename that sounds like a generic computer game title or straight-to-video action flick) "Urgent Fury."

Island Politics

Eric Matthew Gairy
Grenada was a British colonial possession ( sugar plantations) up until 1967 when it became a "self-governing state in association with the United Kingdom" ( It was granted independence in 1974 (still retaining ties to the UK). In 1950, a union organizer, Eric Matthew Gairy, organized the island's first general strike. He had strong support and the strike continued longer than was tolerable to those in power. In February 1951, he was "removed" from the island but when violence and demonstrations occurred in the action's wake, he was returned and seen as a hero of the people.

That October, his newly created political party (Grenada People's Party, later renamed the Grenada United Labor Party) won 71% of the vote. He was in and out of office during the fifties and was elected Chief Minister in 1961. There were charges made that he was using the office for embezzlement and spending public funds for his own use as well as personal confrontations with others leading to Britain's dissolution of parliament and the cabinet (thus putting Gairy out of a job). He got elected again in 1967 and it wasn't long before it became clear that those earlier accusations were almost certainly true.

Gairy became a de facto dictator. Despite his more populist beginnings, his "regime" was an exercise in rule through a single entity without consideration for the will (or the good) of the people. He fixed elections, used public funds to line his own pocket and personal reasons, the most wealthy held the majority of the land, the poor remained working and living under harsh conditions—control over the people (and dealing with the opposition) was maintained by his personal control over the military (small as it was), the police, and a personal group of "thugs" called the "Mongoose Gang" (comparisons with Haiti's Duvalier were apt, though on a far smaller scale).

The early seventies brought a great deal of resentment and anger among the people for the actions of Gairy and his corrupt "government." In 1973, an educated lawyer, Maurice Bishop, merged his Movement for Assemblies of the People with the earlier Joint Endeavor for Welfare, Education, and Liberation (JEWEL) to become the New Jewel Movement (NJM). They demanded that Gairy resign and protested. Playing his role, Gairy had his forces "put down" the demonstrators in 1974 (an action called "Bloody Monday" in which one was killed and many others wounded). When there was an election in 1976, the NJM lost. Gairy retained power.

People's Revolutionary Government
In 1979, the NJM ousted Gairy and installed itself in power under the title of the People's Revolutionary Government (PRG). One of its early acts was to inform other Caribbean nations (including the US) that it had no intention of harming any lives or property (particularly American) and wished to have good relations with all involved. Additionally, they promised free elections soon (they did not follow through on this, another pretense the US used as it escalated its foreign policy toward the tiny nation).

Of course there were problems. The NJM/PRG were socialist-flavored organizations—on the other hand, the emphasis was on "social" as reforms were put in place for health, education, literacy, sanitation, and agriculture, while private enterprise was left almost untouched. In fact, the International Money Fund (IMF) stated the year after the PRG took power that private investment had increased 130%. Regardless, this disturbed the US, which in its fear of "communism" did not wish to have such a government (especially if it became successful) in its self-proclaimed sphere of influence (control). The US and Britain (along with some other area nations) began to pressure Grenada for the promised elections.

Within weeks of the new government's establishment, it had been warned by the US not to trade with Cuba, had its UN Mission bugged, and had "travel-scare rumors" spread about it (which would affect its main source of income). The combination of overt and covert pressure became a threat of economic destabilization. When help was needed, Grenada was refused.

Needing economic aid, they appealed to western nations. Using its economic muscle in order to continue "pressuring" for free elections (hoping for a less left-leaning, pro-American one—not that the government was anti-American or that elections were the only thing on the agenda), the US only offered a pittance, which was an insult to the new government. According to Bishop, Grenada was "not for sale." The US further insulted the country when Grenada asked for aid in 1980 when a hurricane wiped out 40% of its banana crop. Not only was aid all but refused, a condition was stipulated that Grenada not receive any assistance from the West Indian Banana Exporting Association which was giving aid to other countries in the region (the association refused the condition, whether that would have changed things is doubtful but unclear). Grenada further upset the United States by backing the Soviet Union in its invasion of Afghanistan.

"The Caribbean is rapidly becoming a Communist lake in what should be an American pond, and the United States resembles a giant, afraid to move."
Ronald Reagan, 1979

Since aid from the US was hardly forthcoming (the "free election" pretense aside), the already socialist (and popular among Grenada's citizens—the PRG was no oppressive regime, it was widely supported with about the only dissension coming from the wealthy) country turned to similar governments, namely Cuba and the Soviet Union.

Grenada was working on building an international airport (recalling its main source of income is tourism) that, much to the chagrin of the US administration, was funded by Cuba, more leftist European countries, and the Middle East (it was also partly funded by Canada, Mexico, and Britain but that was ignored, the buzzword was "Cuba"). The administration put restrictions on PRG embassy contact and tried to get its allies to refrain from giving aid. The IMF was pressured by the US to reduce its aid to the country, which dropped by over 35%

Reagan claimed the country was a strategic threat (though the progression of policy and events began during the Carter administration, it escalated quickly under Reagan). There had also been an increase of its military (from 50-2000 people)—from early on, the PRG claimed they feared an imminent invasion by Gairy and his forces. This led to small shipments of small arms which the US seized upon as "proof" they were a "threat." They asked the US and other countries for military aid but only Cuba responded. This was the largest army in the region (all 2000...) and the US government claimed they had an estimated "3400 rifles, 200 machine guns, and 100 heavy weapons" (

Unfortunately these large numbers of weapons seem not to have surfaced, despite Reagan's claim that US forces found large amounts of " weapons and communication equipment" and that one warehouse had "weapons and ammunition stacked almost to the ceiling, enough to supply thousands of terrorists" (another claim was that Grenada was a Soviet-Cuba puppet that would be a launching place to "export terror and undermine democracy"). A British paper reported a few days later that the warehouse in question had "only five mortars to be seen, one recoilless rifle, one Soviet-made quadri-barrelled antiaircraft gun, and two Korean-vintage British Bren guns on display." The New York Times reported that it also included "a number of antiquated guns, including rifles manufactured in the 1870s." Of the three warehouses, only one was a quarter full. Many of the weapons were from disarmed militia members (more on "threat" claims below).

The events that were the "apparent" precipitating cause were due to political and "ideological" battles within the PRG. Bishop and a man named Bernard Coard (who had also been a leader in the coup) had differences that escalated until a breaking point was reached. On 12 October 1983, Bishop was kidnapped and placed under house arrest (charged with conspiring to assassinate Coard). Still popular among the people, crowds gathered and demonstrations were held. On 19 October, the opposition lined Bishop and members of his cabinet against a wall and executed them. A new, more left-leaning government (still a faction of the NJM) established itself (interesting that the act was condemned by Fidel Castro, a friend of Bishop—Cuba also did not recognize the new government). In just under a week, the United States invaded.

"Justifications" & Lies

Part of the "success" at maintaining the "justifications" was due to the US not allowing the media on the island during most of the operation. Media complicity and the average American's lack of desire to explore the news beyond the front page of the US papers aided this.

"Endangered" citizens
The primary reason given to the American people to justify the invasion was that it was to save the lives (evacuate) of endangered American citizens at St. George's Medical College on the island. Allegedly, the rise to power of the new government put them in danger. One of the major problems with this is that at no time has it been demonstrated that the students were in any danger. In fact, all evidence suggests otherwise.

Grenada had perviously promised no harm would come to foreigners. Further, they offered the US an opportunity to evacuate the citizens (some did, more below) a few days before the invasion (which was only acknowledged later). The administration claimed not to trust the offer, also claiming that the airport was closed on Monday (24 October) contrary to what Grenada had promised. Unfortunately for Washington, it was a lie. Four flights had left from the airport that day, some with students and even a member of the administration (a director of the Social Security Commission). The government only admitted to the flights later on. The only airports closed were on neighboring islands (fearing some sort of military action on someone's part)—if the students couldn't be evacuated it was not the fault of Grenada.

This was the airport that earlier in the year (March) Reagan had showed Americans surveillance photos on television (suggesting it was "secret"—in fact anyone could walk over to where construction was taking place and take as many pictures as they wanted). He spoke of the long runway and how it was a part of the military buildup by the Soviet-Cuban governments (again the alleged "threat"). He failed to mention the length was necessary because of the jumbo jets that would be using it, bringing in tourists (it was built to civilian specifications). Or that six other nearby (non-puppet) islands had runways just as long. That announcement came a month after the Defense Department claimed the Soviets were shipping helicopters, torpedo boats, and MIG fighters (a supposed "air force" of 200 planes). None of those were ever found (but it continued the buildup of the "security threat" that the US needed for the second major justifcation).

Also: the government of Grenada issued orders that the Americans be treated "with utmost consideration by the army" ( and even provided them with vehicles and transport between the two campuses (that there were two campuses apparently was not passed on to the forces who only secured one before finding out about the other—a strange situation if the paramount reason involved the rescue of citizens). It also seems that many of the students were "unwilling to leave or be evacuated" (ibid.), as was reported by two members of the US embassy in Barbados who had visited just prior to the invasion.

As for Cuba, three days before to the invasion, it sent a message to Washington that no Americans were in danger and that it would "cooperate in the solution of problems without violence or intervention" ( There was no reply until after the invasion had begun. The next day, Cuba sent a message to Grenada asking that the area around the school's campuses be made a demilitarized zone in order to take away the America's "pretext of evacuating its citizens" (ibid.), thus hoping to avoid the impending invasion.

"Legal" justification
The US also claimed that they had been asked to intervene on behalf of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). The OECS is a coalition of seven small island nations (Grenada, St. Vincent, St. Lucia, Dominica, Antigua, St. Kitts-Nevis, and Monserrat). Part of their agreement was for mutual defense against "external aggression." For that provision to be passed, a unanimous vote is necessary (each nation has veto power). The first three problems are here. The first is that there was no "external aggression" and little evidence to suspect there to be (barring some of the misinformation coming from the US). The second is that (obviously) Grenada—which wasn't involved in the vote, though the US was there—would have vetoed it. The third, that it was intended to be "mutual" defense, not a means by which to include an outside party (a dangerous proposition as all that would be required for getting a "hired gun" would be to request it).

In order to get around the lack of unanimity, the US claimed the Governor General of Grenada (still tied to the UK but with no real power) also requested intervention. (Of note is that the one who signed the agreement was Bishop; Coard would hardly green light an invasion of his own country and government.) This is highly problematic as it seems quite possible it never happened. It was denied by both the British Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (who later in an interview rebutted all of Reagan's "justifications"). People who had spoken to him just before the invasion had heard nothing about a request from him. In a later BBC interview, he stated that the invasion was the "last" thing he had wanted (on the other hand, just after it began he signed papers to the effect making it "legal").

But that's not all. The prime minister of Barbados (not on the charter, but along with Jamaica, one that requested intervention) claimed that on 15 October, he was approached by the US concerning the request (the State Department declined to comment). Sources near the Jamaican prime minister gave a similar story, saying that the offer was along the lines that if they requested intervention, the US would respond. The day after the invasion, the US ambassador to France stated on (French) television that the administration had been planning it for about two weeks (opening the possibility that it may have predated Bishop's arrest). It was also disclosed later that the government of Dominica received money from the CIA "for a secret support operation" ( prior to the invasion.

Another committee met shortly after the OECS did. The Caribbean Community (Caricom), representing the larger community of the region. It counseled against force, put in place sanctions (trade and diplomacy), and gave demands to the new government. The invasion took place before any reply was received.

Dress Rehersal
And how long was it being planned? An interesting military operation took place in the summer of 1981 as part of naval maneuvers. It was called "Amber and the Amberdines" (a thinly—probably deliberately—disguised reference to Grenada and the Grenadines). The target was called "our enemy in the Eastern Caribbean" and the point of the operation was to rescue American " hostages" when " negotiations with the Amber government broke down." It took place on Vieques Island near Puerto Rico (similarly sized to Grenada) and after the troops "took" the beaches and the single airport, they stuck around to "install a regime favorable to the way of life we espouse" (qtd. at This may have served two purposes, the possible pre-planned invasion, two years prior to the actual one (making Bishop's murder and the subsequent takeover another pretext), and/or to serve as a "warning" to Grenada.

The Cubans
And what of the numerous Cuban military personnel that the people were informed about (according to Reagan: "we got there just in time")? Similar to earlier reports of the airplanes, and the missile silos and Soviet submarine base being built, it was false (though more by degree than kind). The US had already charged that a Cuban takeover was imminent (again, another supposed "threat"). At one press conference it was announced that captured documents stated that there were 1100 trained professional soldiers, impersonating construction workers (a break down of the Cubans is below). Other documents supposedly showed that there were also 341 officers and 4000 reservists.

As in the other cases, it is either gross exaggeration or a lie (American propaganda went into action on Grenada shortly after arrival making claims that the Cubans supported the assassination of Bishop—a blatant lie—and that the country was a pawn of the Soviet-Cuba bloc, among the usual anti-Communist rhetorical statements). The Cuban government claimed there were are total of 784 of its citizens on the island (later accepted by the US). They were:

The mistake that the Cubans made (other than the misfortune of being Cuban) was that they defended themselves when fired upon by the invading US forces (the US claimed there were 100 "combatants"). Cuban casualties were 84 (of the 60 the Pentagon had originally claimed to have killed, it turned out only 28 were actually Cuban).

So as for the great danger, in the words of Margaret Thatcher: "if they were going to be in danger, the time of maximum danger would be the time when anyone else set foot on the island." Since there were French, Venezuelan, Canadian, Italian, and British citizens on the island, their governments were not taken in by Reagan's claims (while he made sure to mention Cubans, Russians, North Koreans, and Libyans—all officially sanctioned enemies—he somehow forgot to mention anyone else).

The US v. the World

The United Nations
As the US is a ratified member of the United Nations it is supposed to adhere to its treaties and conventions (that it has a history of defying that is outside of the scope here)—in fact, once ratified "all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land": US Constitution Article VI. The UN Charter (Chapter I, Article 2, Section 4) states that "all members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations" (this would include countries with governments the US dislikes, especially given that one directive of the charter is to develop "respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples"). Further, Chapter VII, Article 39 states that the "Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken." Members are supposed to abide by this. The US had no problem using the precepts to condemn the Soviet Union for similar actions.

Since the US has never shown any reason for its intervention (the "threat" can be safely dismissed) except a highly questionable reading of a treaty it never ratified for a group of nations it does not belong to, there seems no tenable justification for the action taken.

In fact the UN Security Council introduced a resolution condemning the action. The vote was 11-1, (Britain abstaining). The sole against vote was the US, which due to its part as a "permanent member" of the council, the veto killed the resolution. The members of the General Assembly denounced the act, the only countries in support being El Salvador (which was still receiving large amounts of military and economic aid from the US despite atrocious human rights violations), Israel (another "no surprise," given US support not only militarily and economically, but through the continued use of its veto to kill resolutions related to Israel's rights violations) and a few Caribbean countries. No Member of NATO voted with the US.

Reagan's reaction? "One hundred nations in the UN have not agreed with us on just about everything that's come before them where we're involved, and it didn't upset my breakfast at all."

Organization of American States
Another organization that the US is a ratified member of is the Organization of American States (OAS). In its charter (Article 19) "no state or group of states has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other state" and (Article 21) "the territory of a state is inviolable; it may not be the object, even temporarily, of military occupation or other measures of force taken by another state, directly or indirectly, on any grounds whatever." (Given America's history of "intervention," armed or otherwise, in the Caribbean, Central and South America, and Mexico, that it disregarded these articles is "business as usual.")


The fighting lasted only about a week. Thousands of medals were issued for the "heroes" even though a large number of the force had spent most of the time on ships at sea. Graffiti left behind included "Eat shit, commie faggot" (the wall of the Cuban ambassador's house which had been looted and vandalized). One marine was quoted by a London paper as saying "I want to fuck communism out of this little island and fuck it right back to Moscow." There were reports of soldiers using captured Cubans as human shields (in violation of the Geneva Convention) as they advanced.

135 Americans died or were wounded and around 400 Grenadians (Cuban casualties above). Bishop remained highly popular (and his original government by extension)—in fact the US first broadcast anti-Bishop messages from the captured radio station before it realized how it was angering the people it was "liberating" and changed to the tactics mentioned above.

Elections were held in 1984 and the candidate that the US favored won along with 14 of 15 seats in parliament for his party. The one opposition member refused to accept the position, charging "vote rigging and interference in the election by outside forces" ( Another "no surprise"? Perhaps, it wouldn't be the first time. The new prime minister thanked the US "from the bottom of our hearts" (ibid.).

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs (based in Washington) reported on human rights conditions in Grenada a year later:

Reliable accounts are circulating of prisoners being beaten, denied medical attention and confined for long periods without being able to see lawyers. The country's new US-trained police force has acquired a reputation for brutality, arbitrary arrest and abuse of authority (

Additionally, an all-music radio station was closed down. A London journalist reported in 1984 that:

The island remains visibly under American occupation. Jeeps patrol constantly. Helicopters fly over the beaches. Armed military police watch the villagers and frequent the cafes. CIA men supervise the security at the courthouse. The island's only newspaper pours out weekly vitriol about the years of the revolutionary government, this "gruesome period in our history." The pressures, in a small community, are heavy (ibid.).

The "peacekeeping force" remained until 1985.

Later in the decade, book banning began, including such subversive titles as Nelson Mandela Speaks. 1989 saw a list of 80 books which could not be imported. While citizens had thought they would receive aid from the US in rebuilding the economy, none came. Economic trouble continued.

On the other hand, Grenada fixed America's tarnished self-image (and perceived world image) in the wake of the Vietnam disaster, the hostages in Iran, and the truck-bombing in Lebanon. American military might seemed once again supreme (more from an internal public relations standpoint as those outside could see the absurdity of the situation of an bullying elephant stepping on an ant). It also helped maintain the country's dominance in the region and the region's dependence on the US.

In 1986, Reagan when questioned about a possible invasion of Nicaragua, stated that:

You're looking at an individual that is the last one in the world that would ever want to put American troops into Latin America, because the memory of the great Colossus in the North is so widespread in Latin America. We'd lose all our friends if we did anything of that kind.

(Sources:,,,,,,, Noam Chomsky Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies 1989)

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